Wednesday, June 6, 2012

awkward beginnings

My writing is suffering from self conscious awkward adolescence.  Zits, braces, unfortunate hairdos, gangly, clumsy, hormonal, too short, ill at ease, trying too hard to fit in.  My writing hasn’t found it’s true self yet.
I keep trying, and every once in a while, by some miracle, I craft a really good line, an observation, or I hit a vein of inspiration, usually just as knives are being drawn in a discussion between my teenaged sons about a borrowed Berzerker t-shirt.  A frantic spousal call from the kitchen inquiring as to whether or not we have a spatula. 
I try desperately to hold on to the train of thought at it chugs away, belching smoke, obscuring my path, and I respond to my daughter’s question about planning her birthday party, by pointing out that her birthday is in four months, and we have plenty of time.  I say this a little too loud, though clenched teeth and then have to lure her back and stroke her head like a scared cat until she recovers and tells me we could look at birthday cakes on the computer. 
I had never written fiction before my friend, Ken suggested I join him in doing NaNoWriMo.  When he first told me he’d written a novel in a month I thought he was delusional.  Then I learned about November. I took the challenge.  The beauty of NaNoWriMo was that I didn’t have to show my work to anyone. Ever.  It is all on the honor system, just word count. The story doesn’t have to be going anywhere. It got me into a habit of writing and not worrying about content. Characters changed names, they died, they kept talking. My childhood room was described in detail for no reason.  A subplot developed that featured one of my beloved second grade teacher’s sad home life after she was done teaching cursive and all the ‘kn’ words for the day. Characters ate out a lot and stood up and walked to the kitchen and made tea, constantly. None of it made any sense but that’s fine because by Thanksgiving I was nearing my 50,000 word goal and then my sister went into labor.  This served a dual purpose: one of my characters suddenly giving birth and my knowing for certain that I did not want a fourth child.  Not that it was a consideration at all but it was satisfying to firmly shut the door on that possibility.  I was able to write the birth scene with detail that I could not have described before, having only given birth myself three times, and not having been able to observe all the technical details.  It’s amazing what nuances you miss when you’re in agony. I now had a doula character with dreadlocks to the backs of her knees and a myriad of catch phrases and technical drama.
It took me a long time to dive in and take my first creative writing class, because I was so self conscious about not knowing how to craft fiction.  Crazy circle of logic there.  I would have not put up with such reasoning from any of my kids but I dog-eared class catalogues for years before I had the courage to enroll.  I found total support, and was rewarded for sharing my work, which I had never had the courage to do. 

Mary Allison Tierney's essay The Gingerdreadman is included in the anthology Mamas Write, available at Amazon, or your local independent bookshop.


  1. Bet that first novel would be a runaway success -- it sounds fun. :)

  2. I am in awe that you have completed NaNoWriMo not once, not twice, but THREE times!! What an amazing achievement. Cannot wait to read your first novel :)